How Should I Learn Cognitive Science?

My usual approach on this blog is to write about a strategy once I’ve already got it working. This time, I thought it would be interesting to instead focus on a current learning challenge I have, and my thinking process about resolving it.

One of the big learning challenges I’m working on right now is to learn cognitive science. Here’s a quick summary:

  1. Cognitive science is a multidisciplinary field crossing psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics and philosophy, all using different tools to answer the question of how the mind works.
  2. My current benchmark for the curriculum is UC San Diego’s reading list for their incoming doctoral students with backgrounds in other fields. This consists of about 40 textbooks.
  3. My first goal is to read these textbooks, but I’ve also studied from outside this list when appropriate. For instance, when struggling with a Neurobiology textbook, I did Duke’s Medical Neuroscience class via Coursera first.
  4. So far I’ve completed about eight of the textbooks, with another few partially completed.

The challenge is still early on, and since I’ve opted to not make this one heavily time-constrained, I’m still figuring out what’s the best way to learn as I go.

How Do You Practice a Theoretical Subject?

One of the key ingredients of all of my other ultralearning projects was practice. The MIT Challenge had tough final exams. The Year Without English had immersive conversation practice. My Portrait Drawing Challenge was almost entirely practicing drawing.

Part of the reason for practice is simply as a way to test yourself. If I hadn’t done the final exams for MIT, my confidence as to how well I had learned the material would be pretty low. After all, it’s certainly possible to watch a lot of lectures or read a book and not be able to use the knowledge.

However, verifying your ability is only a small part of the benefit of practice. Doing practice is actually a much better way to learn the material. Exams didn’t just confirm I knew the MIT material, it was how I actually learned it.

Practice, therefore, is a crucial ingredient to learning well. But how do I practice cognitive science?

This has been a tricky problem because my curriculum is fundamentally a reading list, not classes. So there are no exams, assignments or projects. The nature of the material also makes practice difficult. While reading a programming textbook might not require practice, it will suggest some possible projects after. But what practice does a neuroscience textbook suggest?

I’d like to share some of what I’ve been trying to cope with this problem, discuss the strengths and weaknesses, and share some of my future attempts to resolve this problem going forward.

#1. Writing Book Summaries

My first attempt was an effort of least resistance—writing book summaries. After I finished a book, I would write a 1000-2000 word article, summarizing the contents of the book. I’ve done this for most of the books I’ve completed so far. I usually go chapter-by-chapter to prevent skipping.

The advantage of this approach is that it is quite easy to do, maybe an hour of work for a book that took 10+ hours to read. It also provides notes for the book, so you can later review a condensed version. Finally, summarizing forces me to think about what the big ideas were and organize my thinking.

Despite this, there’s some clear disadvantages to this approach. Importantly, a lot of depth is sacrificed in a review. Taking 600+ pages of tersely written description into 2-3 pages of summary means I’m simply dumping 99% of the information provided.
Because there’s no exact criteria of what I need to include, this compression also allows me to be selective in what I write, meaning I can write about the things I understood well and avoid those I didn’t.

The book summary approach also doesn’t practice any technical skill. So if I’m reading a book on natural language processing, I have zero experience working with any of those systems. If I’m reading a book about Boltzmann machines, I’ve never used any of the equations. I know from doing the MIT Challenge, that this kind of practice was more than half of the actual learning experience, and it’s being entirely omitted by just summarizing.

#2. Taking Question & Answer Notes While Reading

Something I attempted for one book was to take notes which were in question-form, with a note to the page number in the book. My idea was that this would mean reading created its own practice questions later.

The advantage of this approach, versus just taking notes, was that when reviewing them, I could do active recall instead of passive review.

The problem, which I hadn’t anticipated using this technique, was that I tended to write very difficult questions that referenced an obscure detail of the chapter. Rather than focus on what were the big ideas, I got caught up quizzing myself on some obscure facts or opinions of the authors.

This led to the questions being almost entirely unanswerable, and reviewing them again, I felt they didn’t capture the spirit of what I was trying to learn from the book.

#3. Teaching Selected Lessons and Recording Them

Later, I tried flipping the problem around. Maybe, if my main goal was to understand cognitive science well enough to write about it intelligently, then I shouldn’t be focused on practice questions but on teaching. I could teach selected lessons from each book and that would ensure I understood it.

The advantage of this approach is it does foster a deep understanding of what you’ve covered. The downside is that it is incredibly time consuming and covers far, far less than the looser book summary approach.

I still think this method could work well if the book were about arguing a single thesis. However, most of the books I’m reading are surveying large literatures, so teaching specific lessons is going to omit almost everything else.

For my first attempt with this method, I took the book Human Memory by Alan Baddeley, and figured I would do a 5-minute lesson on some of the chapters (there were over a dozen). By the end, my recorded lesson was 20+ minutes and covered only briefly the first part of just one chapter.

What Should I Do Instead?

As I mentioned in the beginning, I still haven’t resolved this challenge. But here are some further experiments I’ve been thinking about to get at solving this issue of practice:

#1. Post-reading Question Book

I’m beginning to suspect my failure with writing my notes as questions came because it’s difficult to think of intelligent questions while also managing the cognitive demands of reading a book. Given more time and space, I might be able to create a list of questions after reading that capture what stood out to me as the important points.

The idea here would be that, after reading, I would create 25-50 questions for each book, as well as my own answer at the time. I could then keep two electronic files (one with just the questions, one with questions and answers) and randomly quiz myself on these later.

#2. Supplementary Classes

It may just be that books aren’t going to cut it for some topics. So I may need to actually find classes (either MOOCs, OCW, or just begged/borrowed real class materials) that will have included practice components.

I’ve already done this with Neurobiology, taking Medical Neuroscience and passing the exams, made a huge difference in how much I was able to understand and retain from that class. Perhaps I’ll just do this for all of the topics I want to explore more deeply.

Although this is a completely valid solution, it also strikes me as a bit of a cop-out. Why read the books at all if you’re just going to take classes on them later?

#3. Personal Project

Another alternative might be to read the materials and accept, at least for the moment, the insufficiency of my understanding. But, once the reading is done (or nearing completion) switch to working on an implementation project. The project would force me to go back and assemble knowledge I’d previously learned in a richer way.

Examples could include: attempting to write/publish a journal article on the topic, designing some kind of computer model to simulate some of the work or recording a set of lectures around key themes of cognitive science.

This approach appeals to me as well, but I don’t like the idea of delaying practice so far into the project.

What Would You Do?

I didn’t bring this up simply to show that I, too, suffer from learning challenges. Instead, I wanted to showcase my thinking about these difficulties. Having done big, mostly successful self-education projects, I’m acutely aware of what needs to be done to make them work.

I suspect that many people would look at my reading list and not see a problem at all. Heck, just reading all those books is going to be challenging enough, why worry about additional practice on top of it?

But I suppose that’s also what motivates me to improve my understanding of how learning works. I’m always eager to try exploring what might be the deficits of my current approach and see if there are ways they can be overcome.

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  • Sherif Abushadi

    Scott, I absolutely love the MIT Challenge and the Drawing Challenge, not to mention spending a year without English. Inspiring work, for sure. I spent 6 mos in Brazil myself some years ago and had people mistaking me for a native with a curious accent within 3 mos, “mais, de onde e, cara? seu sutake e um poco estrano” (not sure about my spelling there, I was focused on spoken Portuguese 🙂

    Now, to try to answer your question here: “What would you do?” while studying cognitive science — I would teach.

    Put the lessons you’re learning into concrete action and start experimenting with willing students. I’m sure it would be easy enough to invite 10 people to work with you remotely as apprentices, for example, and apply what you’re learning about the human mind and cognition to optimize their experiences.

    There are also a few pop culture books, likely outside of the more formal curriculum you’ve chosen, that distill the art of learning and teaching in ways that might help you develop some mental models about learning even faster like “On Intelligence” by Hawkins, “Peak” by Ericsson, “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Doidge, and “Smarter, Faster, Better” by Duhigg.

    Can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.

  • Sherif Abushadi

    Scott, I absolutely love the MIT Challenge and the Drawing Challenge, not to mention spending a year without English. Inspiring work, for sure. I spent 6 mos in Brazil myself some years ago and had people mistaking me for a native with a curious accent within 3 mos, “mais, de onde e, cara? seu sutake e um poco estrano” (not sure about my spelling there, I was focused on spoken Portuguese 🙂

    Now, to try to answer your question here: “What would you do?” while studying cognitive science — I would teach.

    Put the lessons you’re learning into concrete action and start experimenting with willing students. I’m sure it would be easy enough to invite 10 people to work with you remotely as apprentices, for example, and apply what you’re learning about the human mind and cognition to optimize their experiences.

    There are also a few pop culture books, likely outside of the more formal curriculum you’ve chosen, that distill the art of learning and teaching in ways that might help you develop some mental models about learning even faster like “On Intelligence” by Hawkins, “Peak” by Ericsson, “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Doidge, and “Smarter, Faster, Better” by Duhigg.

    Can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.

  • Sean Lim

    Hey Scott, I’ve been a pretty long time reader of your blog and am actually also now trying to learn some fundamental math and computer science skills through MIT OCW (a la your challenge). I think one of the best ways to consolidate learning about broad topics like cognitive science is by writing a scientific-review-style article focusing on a particular aspect of the larger topic (i.e. neural circuits of fear processing, mechanisms that underlie attention, etc…). I’ve found that reading the primary literature is actually easier than trying to digest a textbook chapter. You kind of choose a particular nugget of knowledge to go after and then expand from that point, rather than try to get the whole picture all at once. Some of the things you learn about one area then generalize to other aspects of the topic.

    Cheers,
    Sean

  • Sean Lim

    Hey Scott, I’ve been a pretty long time reader of your blog and am actually also now trying to learn some fundamental math and computer science skills through MIT OCW (a la your challenge). I think one of the best ways to consolidate learning about broad topics like cognitive science is by writing a scientific-review-style article focusing on a particular aspect of the larger topic (i.e. neural circuits of fear processing, mechanisms that underlie attention, etc…). I’ve found that reading the primary literature is actually easier than trying to digest a textbook chapter. You kind of choose a particular nugget of knowledge to go after and then expand from that point, rather than try to get the whole picture all at once. Some of the things you learn about one area then generalize to other aspects of the topic.

    Cheers,
    Sean

  • Jeff Danison

    Hey Scott, my suggestion: Do your at home reading, summarize chapters and make note of significant experiments and their results. I think what you could do is find a mentor — someone who knows more about the topic than you do and just discuss what you’ve learned with them once or twice a week. Email or go into a university and find a professor during their office hours. Teaching would also be a good option.

  • Jeff Danison

    Hey Scott, my suggestion: Do your at home reading, summarize chapters and make note of significant experiments and their results. I think what you could do is find a mentor — someone who knows more about the topic than you do and just discuss what you’ve learned with them once or twice a week. Email or go into a university and find a professor during their office hours. Teaching would also be a good option.

  • It seems to me that the answer depends on what you want to do with the information in those 40 textbooks. If you were going to apply to a PhD program, then you would want to practice on the types of qualifying exams that candidates have to take. If you were going to write a book on cognitive science, you could write outlines and draft chapters. If you’re reading these books to come up with new learning techniques, then Rapid Learner-style slides and videos might be the best choice.

    If you’re just learning for general interest and self-improvement, then 40 textbooks seems like overkill, so I assume you have something else in mind.

  • Duncan Smith

    It seems to me that the answer depends on what you want to do with the information in those 40 textbooks. If you were going to apply to a PhD program, then you would want to practice on the types of qualifying exams that candidates have to take. If you were going to write a book on cognitive science, you could write outlines and draft chapters. If you’re reading these books to come up with new learning techniques, then Rapid Learner-style slides and videos might be the best choice.

    If you’re just learning for general interest and self-improvement, then 40 textbooks seems like overkill, so I assume you have something else in mind.

  • camila

    I think Sherif here is close to the gist of the matter.

    My awnser was going to be that you should immerse yourself in the actual discussions of the field, where the actual theories are born. That would mean reviewing papers and discussing with experts. The cognitive science (as all science) is a knownledge base that is born from this very process, so to become someone who “does” cognitive science would be to become someone who engages with that melting pot of ideas.

    But this doesn’t factor in that maybe that’s not something you want. That instead you want to use the theorical knownledge gained from the books to further your *own* practical, working methods on /learning/ (indeed this is the impression I get from the project).

    So; rather than “learning how to DO cognitive science” it is rather “learning how to APPLY cognitive science”. In that case, making your own lectures would indeed be the best way to go.

  • camila

    I think Sherif here is close to the gist of the matter.

    My awnser was going to be that you should immerse yourself in the actual discussions of the field, where the actual theories are born. That would mean reviewing papers and discussing with experts. The cognitive science (as all science) is a knownledge base that is born from this very process, so to become someone who “does” cognitive science would be to become someone who engages with that melting pot of ideas.

    But this doesn’t factor in that maybe that’s not something you want. That instead you want to use the theorical knownledge gained from the books to further your *own* practical, working methods on /learning/ (indeed this is the impression I get from the project).

    So; rather than “learning how to DO cognitive science” it is rather “learning how to APPLY cognitive science”. In that case, making your own lectures would indeed be the best way to go.

  • I am surprised that being “textbooks”, don’t these books come with questions/exercises associated with each chapter? Isn’t that one of the most common feature of textbooks?

    If you were to answer just the questions available for each chapter immediately after reading the chapter and/or after some spacing, I think the approach will solve most of your concerns about understanding the material. This is, of course, possible only if the particular textbook has chapter-wise practice questions.

  • Kartik Singhal

    I am surprised that being “textbooks”, don’t these books come with questions/exercises associated with each chapter? Isn’t that one of the most common feature of textbooks?

    If you were to answer just the questions available for each chapter immediately after reading the chapter and/or after some spacing, I think the approach will solve most of your concerns about understanding the material. This is, of course, possible only if the particular textbook has chapter-wise practice questions.

  • This is one area the most difficult university systems do right. In my girlfriend’s psychology phd program they were forced to do a qualifying exam in addition to their dissertation. The qualifying exam requires them to memorize virtually the entire body of research within their specialization (say cognitive psychology or social psychology), as well as more generally any important research within the larger field of psychology.
    So they needed to know the rough details of the study, the results, dates, who did the study, what university they went to, who they worked with, etc.
    Most use notecards that they create themselves in addition to prior note cards made by others.
    They’re then given test questions which they have to answer with citations and then give a verbal defense in front of 3 professors. Basically you write 40 pages in 2-3 hours. Absolutely brutal. People fail outright after 5 years of grad school.
    What this does though is it forces you to go beyond a vague understanding of the principles, to understanding the body of research those principles are based on, and to know what’s changed over time, what’s been replicated or not, who every is, what constitutes good research, and how to implement these principles.
    What you will forget over time are the details, which don’t matter, but you will still understand the body of research as a whole much better.
    Another thing they did really well was they created an environment for intellectual sparring. They brought in researchers from other universities to talk about their research, they argue about ideas, professors who really know their stuff challenge you, etc. As a result you know both the material, but you know the people, you know the gossip.
    Were I designing my own system, I would want to interject as much of this as possible to my study. So obvious things would be to study and read the research. I would join the organizations that hold conferences and I would attend as many as possible. Then go talk to people about their research. Meet them in person look at their posters.
    Get on the email lists for those organizations and watch people argue.
    Finally the “doing” of neuroscience is research. Learning statistics, analysis, how to write research, etc. is the doing. Even if you have to plan to be a researcher, you will likely need to understand research in depth to understand neuroscience or even read the research.
    Maybe after you’ve done your studying I would reach out to the people you meet at conferences and ask them to give you hard questions to defend. Then write papers. Perhaps someone will “grade” it for you even.

  • Allen

    This is one area the most difficult university systems do right. In my girlfriend’s psychology phd program they were forced to do a qualifying exam in addition to their dissertation. The qualifying exam requires them to memorize virtually the entire body of research within their specialization (say cognitive psychology or social psychology), as well as more generally any important research within the larger field of psychology.
    So they needed to know the rough details of the study, the results, dates, who did the study, what university they went to, who they worked with, etc.
    Most use notecards that they create themselves in addition to prior note cards made by others.
    They’re then given test questions which they have to answer with citations and then give a verbal defense in front of 3 professors. Basically you write 40 pages in 2-3 hours. Absolutely brutal. People fail outright after 5 years of grad school.
    What this does though is it forces you to go beyond a vague understanding of the principles, to understanding the body of research those principles are based on, and to know what’s changed over time, what’s been replicated or not, who every is, what constitutes good research, and how to implement these principles.
    What you will forget over time are the details, which don’t matter, but you will still understand the body of research as a whole much better.
    Another thing they did really well was they created an environment for intellectual sparring. They brought in researchers from other universities to talk about their research, they argue about ideas, professors who really know their stuff challenge you, etc. As a result you know both the material, but you know the people, you know the gossip.
    Were I designing my own system, I would want to interject as much of this as possible to my study. So obvious things would be to study and read the research. I would join the organizations that hold conferences and I would attend as many as possible. Then go talk to people about their research. Meet them in person look at their posters.
    Get on the email lists for those organizations and watch people argue.
    Finally the “doing” of neuroscience is research. Learning statistics, analysis, how to write research, etc. is the doing. Even if you have to plan to be a researcher, you will likely need to understand research in depth to understand neuroscience or even read the research.
    Maybe after you’ve done your studying I would reach out to the people you meet at conferences and ask them to give you hard questions to defend. Then write papers. Perhaps someone will “grade” it for you even.

  • AlexB

    Hi Scott, great topic! I’ve been wondering if you were ever going to turn your attention to these subjects which defy the regular advice your suggest when approaching studying topics, particularly the idea of applying learned knowledge.

    Before answering your question, I suggest that there might be a link between the challenges of learning abstract concepts which cannot be easily applied (such as those often met in psychology, cognitive science and other “humanities” studies such as sociology, management etc.) and between your previous post on learning what cannot be taught. Many of these fields are relatively new and if you look at how they have evolved historically, there is a lot of evidence that theory has been at the forefront whilst practice has been left behind. Today we might find more practical applications but we should ask: is it in the lab or is it in the field? I have personally found that much of the “application” of knowledge in these fields appears in the laboratory or in larger writing projects which require interaction with the real world (collecting data, interpreting, etc.). This presents two challenges: the accessibility of (or effort required to access) modes of applying knowledge compared to other fields (say a lab or sample populations vs. a computer) and second, the methods of receiving feedback on this application of knowledge.

    This latter issue stems in my opinion from the accessibility problem: how do you test yourself and your understanding in fields where there is no “solution” but rather abstract knowledge? And this brings me back to your question:

    I’ve also dealt with the idea of summarizing as a possible way to capture ideas from a text book, but I found that wasn’t the most successful method for long term retention. I tried writing critiques of articles and even then I might miss some parts (though I did find the critical analysis forced me to understand the written ideas better, and I also remembered them better since they were anchored to my own critique). However, this can’t work in all situations and often the critique might be shallow due to a lack of further knowledge.

    What I did find to work best was conversation – what I like to call the “ping-pong” of ideas. I tested my understanding of an idea by talking to colleagues, friends and teachers about it (when we had all read the book/article). Even better was the friction written works generated – attempting to translate theoretical knowledge into practice and then getting feedback on it. For the latter I am always hungry for feedback (both from applying idea and from colleagues who read the work- I am an I/O Psychologist).

    I think that some of the comments thus far echo that the best way to put knowledge into practice in these fields is through active friction with other students, teachers, etc. But I would also expand, that the applicability of knowledge is often indirect, resource intensive (time, money and facilities) and thus is still in need of some out of the box thinking when trying to learn faster and better.

    What do you think?

  • AlexB

    Hi Scott, great topic! I’ve been wondering if you were ever going to turn your attention to these subjects which defy the regular advice your suggest when approaching studying topics, particularly the idea of applying learned knowledge.

    Before answering your question, I suggest that there might be a link between the challenges of learning abstract concepts which cannot be easily applied (such as those often met in psychology, cognitive science and other “humanities” studies such as sociology, management etc.) and between your previous post on learning what cannot be taught. Many of these fields are relatively new and if you look at how they have evolved historically, there is a lot of evidence that theory has been at the forefront whilst practice has been left behind. Today we might find more practical applications but we should ask: is it in the lab or is it in the field? I have personally found that much of the “application” of knowledge in these fields appears in the laboratory or in larger writing projects which require interaction with the real world (collecting data, interpreting, etc.). This presents two challenges: the accessibility of (or effort required to access) modes of applying knowledge compared to other fields (say a lab or sample populations vs. a computer) and second, the methods of receiving feedback on this application of knowledge.

    This latter issue stems in my opinion from the accessibility problem: how do you test yourself and your understanding in fields where there is no “solution” but rather abstract knowledge? And this brings me back to your question:

    I’ve also dealt with the idea of summarizing as a possible way to capture ideas from a text book, but I found that wasn’t the most successful method for long term retention. I tried writing critiques of articles and even then I might miss some parts (though I did find the critical analysis forced me to understand the written ideas better, and I also remembered them better since they were anchored to my own critique). However, this can’t work in all situations and often the critique might be shallow due to a lack of further knowledge.

    What I did find to work best was conversation – what I like to call the “ping-pong” of ideas. I tested my understanding of an idea by talking to colleagues, friends and teachers about it (when we had all read the book/article). Even better was the friction written works generated – attempting to translate theoretical knowledge into practice and then getting feedback on it. For the latter I am always hungry for feedback (both from applying idea and from colleagues who read the work- I am an I/O Psychologist).

    I think that some of the comments thus far echo that the best way to put knowledge into practice in these fields is through active friction with other students, teachers, etc. But I would also expand, that the applicability of knowledge is often indirect, resource intensive (time, money and facilities) and thus is still in need of some out of the box thinking when trying to learn faster and better.

    What do you think?

  • Sarah

    I agree, it depends on what you intend to do with the knowledge. I just scanned your other projects so excuse my ignorance but it seems like with each there was some sort of practical application of the skill learned. I feel like that is the missing link in this current project. Reading textbooks and research may give you a comprehensive theoretical understanding of cognitive neuroscience but you will be missing the true essence of the field unless you find a way to practice in some way. You could do this by getting a position as a psych assistant or try to get some consulting jobs to put your specific area of interest into practice within the road field of cognitive neuroscience. Maybe you could get a research assistant position at your local uni. I think the fascinating thing about neuroscience/psychology is that in practice there are so many factors when working with people that affect practical application.
    What about seeing if you could set up a virtual group where you could set up “projects” for others based on your understanding and using that as your teaching/experimentation opportunity.

    It’s such a cool area of study I’m sure you’ll get as excited and nerdy about it as I do and if you don’t get to do anything practical with the knowledge wait until you have kids and practice on them! Good luck, I’m excited for you

  • Sarah

    I agree, it depends on what you intend to do with the knowledge. I just scanned your other projects so excuse my ignorance but it seems like with each there was some sort of practical application of the skill learned. I feel like that is the missing link in this current project. Reading textbooks and research may give you a comprehensive theoretical understanding of cognitive neuroscience but you will be missing the true essence of the field unless you find a way to practice in some way. You could do this by getting a position as a psych assistant or try to get some consulting jobs to put your specific area of interest into practice within the road field of cognitive neuroscience. Maybe you could get a research assistant position at your local uni. I think the fascinating thing about neuroscience/psychology is that in practice there are so many factors when working with people that affect practical application.
    What about seeing if you could set up a virtual group where you could set up “projects” for others based on your understanding and using that as your teaching/experimentation opportunity.

    It’s such a cool area of study I’m sure you’ll get as excited and nerdy about it as I do and if you don’t get to do anything practical with the knowledge wait until you have kids and practice on them! Good luck, I’m excited for you

  • Sarah

    Oops sorry that was a totally ignorant comment I had originally read your post a few days ago with intent to respond then and iforgot about it hence the practical application missing link comment! My thought process was I was not convinced the practical application you were suggesting such as summarizing research or teaching would give you as deep an understanding as true hands-on practice as you’d experienced in your other projects.

  • Sarah

    Oops sorry that was a totally ignorant comment I had originally read your post a few days ago with intent to respond then and iforgot about it hence the practical application missing link comment! My thought process was I was not convinced the practical application you were suggesting such as summarizing research or teaching would give you as deep an understanding as true hands-on practice as you’d experienced in your other projects.

  • Scott Young

    My current end goal is to have the knowledge so as to be able to write about adjacent topics intelligently, but some intermediate practical goal that is more comprehensive would probably aid learning.

  • Scott Young

    My current end goal is to have the knowledge so as to be able to write about adjacent topics intelligently, but some intermediate practical goal that is more comprehensive would probably aid learning.

  • Scott Young

    I agree. I think as the project evolves my understanding of the practical requirements will evolve as well and I’ll be able to practice in a more sophisticated way.

    One related skill for this is definitely going to be understanding learning so I can be a more effective teacher of learning skills–I’d like to have a stronger basis in the foundations of brain science so that my ideas are grounded on something firm. Another would be related to computer science and AI, so being able to build models and think conceptually in terms of cognitive models has benefits in clarifying the thinking process in a hands-on way.

  • Scott Young

    I agree. I think as the project evolves my understanding of the practical requirements will evolve as well and I’ll be able to practice in a more sophisticated way.

    One related skill for this is definitely going to be understanding learning so I can be a more effective teacher of learning skills–I’d like to have a stronger basis in the foundations of brain science so that my ideas are grounded on something firm. Another would be related to computer science and AI, so being able to build models and think conceptually in terms of cognitive models has benefits in clarifying the thinking process in a hands-on way.

  • Scott Young

    This is all very good. I’ve thought about having a similar approach, but regurgitating citations seems like a higher-level goal than what I’m after at the moment. My curriculum currently is a broad coverage provided to substitute for an undergraduate background, not a PhD.

  • Scott Young

    Tons of textbooks have no questions, including most of the ones on that list.

  • Scott Young

    This is all very good. I’ve thought about having a similar approach, but regurgitating citations seems like a higher-level goal than what I’m after at the moment. My curriculum currently is a broad coverage provided to substitute for an undergraduate background, not a PhD.

  • Scott Young

    Tons of textbooks have no questions, including most of the ones on that list.

  • Scott Young

    The goal is similar to my MIT Challenge–have a broad intellectual foundation in the subject from which I can either reference in my writing or use to apply towards more specialized goals.

  • Scott Young

    All good suggestions. Thanks!

  • Scott Young

    The goal is similar to my MIT Challenge–have a broad intellectual foundation in the subject from which I can either reference in my writing or use to apply towards more specialized goals.

  • Scott Young

    All good suggestions. Thanks!

  • Scott Young

    I’m doing breadth-first, rather than depth-first at the moment. I think having lots of specific points is important, but I’d rather have a good survey of the territory before I start delving too far into small academic discussions.

  • Scott Young

    I’m doing breadth-first, rather than depth-first at the moment. I think having lots of specific points is important, but I’d rather have a good survey of the territory before I start delving too far into small academic discussions.

  • Scott Young

    I feel pretty good about the reading list itself. I’m sure I’ll read more popular books on cog sci topics, but I’m trying to avoid those since they often present the field in an unhelpful way.

  • Scott Young

    I feel pretty good about the reading list itself. I’m sure I’ll read more popular books on cog sci topics, but I’m trying to avoid those since they often present the field in an unhelpful way.

  • Scott Young

    I agree–but I think it’s important to distinguish levels of ideas here. The fiercest discussions tend to happen at the graduate level and beyond. I could certainly participate, but I’d rather focus on getting a deeper survey of established knowledge before wading into specific debates. I think debating can be a good strategy, but I’m interested in trying something more comprehensive first.

  • Scott Young

    I agree–but I think it’s important to distinguish levels of ideas here. The fiercest discussions tend to happen at the graduate level and beyond. I could certainly participate, but I’d rather focus on getting a deeper survey of established knowledge before wading into specific debates. I think debating can be a good strategy, but I’m interested in trying something more comprehensive first.

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  • shubhrant

    Surveying large literature’s well I have difficulty in doing that myself so I really can’t help. But I appreciate ur effort and organised thinking about learning process itself.
    Try finding some link BTW chapters and frame questions on them separately. Applying knowledge of one chapter on other as going through the book is sth I wanted to do but couldn’t.
    I will like to know ur opinion on this one.
    Thanks.

  • shubhrant

    Surveying large literature’s well I have difficulty in doing that myself so I really can’t help. But I appreciate ur effort and organised thinking about learning process itself.
    Try finding some link BTW chapters and frame questions on them separately. Applying knowledge of one chapter on other as going through the book is sth I wanted to do but couldn’t.
    I will like to know ur opinion on this one.
    Thanks.

  • dohzyl

    Why not making an app for teaching CogSci? After all, the best way to learn is teaching, isn’t?

  • dohzyl

    Why not making an app for teaching CogSci? After all, the best way to learn is teaching, isn’t?

  • Malaika Queano

    I found this blog via the course on Coursera – “Learning about Learning.” It’s all very helpful and fascinating! I am going over some engineering concepts that I learned in school as well as expanding my knowledge on magnetics for my new job in order to intelligently talk about our products and test methods with customers. Now that I have graduated from college, I’ve also started taking music courses in my free time to improve my guitar playing and try my hand at songwriting and recording. I plan to try out some of the methods you’ve mentioned in other posts (project-based learning, habitual structure, casual learning, speed/skim reading). One thing I’ve started doing for learning everything about magnetics and electrical engineering is reading technical articles on new research and advancements. I find that it is a very good way to apply any knowledge I’ve learned while reading about interesting things. Maybe there is a cognitive science publication out there that publishes news article or magazines? I’ve been reading IEEE articles and any magazines that my coworkers have laying around. I’ll let you know how this learning method is paying off soon! Love your blog!

  • Malaika Queano

    I found this blog via the course on Coursera – “Learning about Learning.” It’s all very helpful and fascinating! I am going over some engineering concepts that I learned in school as well as expanding my knowledge on magnetics for my new job in order to intelligently talk about our products and test methods with customers. Now that I have graduated from college, I’ve also started taking music courses in my free time to improve my guitar playing and try my hand at songwriting and recording. I plan to try out some of the methods you’ve mentioned in other posts (project-based learning, habitual structure, casual learning, speed/skim reading). One thing I’ve started doing for learning everything about magnetics and electrical engineering is reading technical articles on new research and advancements. I find that it is a very good way to apply any knowledge I’ve learned while reading about interesting things. Maybe there is a cognitive science publication out there that publishes news article or magazines? I’ve been reading IEEE articles and any magazines that my coworkers have laying around. I’ll let you know how this learning method is paying off soon! Love your blog!

  • Suggestion: list of concepts.

    When I read a book I compile a list of concepts. These might be ideas, classifications, algorithms, relations between fields and so on. This process automatically generates questions (ex: “synapse” => “What is synapse?” “Where is it in a body?” “What purpose does it serve?”) and always thinking in terms of concepts forces me to focus on the big picture instead of details. After finishing the book this list of concepts helps retain the knowledge: I might put it into some spaced repetition software like Anki and review it on a regular basis.

  • reivans

    Suggestion: list of concepts.

    When I read a book I compile a list of concepts. These might be ideas, classifications, algorithms, relations between fields and so on. This process automatically generates questions (ex: “synapse” => “What is synapse?” “Where is it in a body?” “What purpose does it serve?”) and always thinking in terms of concepts forces me to focus on the big picture instead of details. After finishing the book this list of concepts helps retain the knowledge: I might put it into some spaced repetition software like Anki and review it on a regular basis.

  • Calen

    Scott,

    I’d recommend conducting data analysis. Seems to me you’re already somewhat versed in coding, so you can start exploring the practical aspects of cognitive science by downloading a free copy of R and wading into the data yourself. It puts things into perspective.

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